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Alternative forms[edit]

Notable African-Americans


Patterned on forms such as Irish-American, popularized by Jesse Jackson[1] and in common use since the late 1980s.[2]


African-American (comparative more African-American, superlative most African-American)

  1. (of a person) American and black.
    Synonym: Afro-American
  2. (US, nonstandard, proscribed, of a person) Of black-African descent.
    Synonyms: black, (dated) Negro, (dated) colored
  3. Of or pertaining to the culture of African-American people.

Usage notes[edit]

  • In the US, this term is often seen as a more formal and polite alternative to black.
  • Aside from black and of color, most other synonyms are dated, and likely to be considered offensive in the US.
  • This term is not used (except jocularly) for Americans of North African descent whose skin is not black, such as Berbers or Egyptians, nor is it used for white South Africans. It is specifically used to refer to the group of people who have descended from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and have resided in the United States for centuries as well as other Americans with African heritage but is sometimes used to refer to Afro-Caribbeans, more recent African immigrants, or erroneously to any black person, even if not American.



African-American (plural African-Americans)

  1. A black American.
    Synonyms: Afro-American, Afromerican, (slang, archaic, US) unbleached American
  2. (US, nonstandard, proscribed) Any black person.
    Synonyms: black, (dated) Negro, (dated) colored, (highly offensive) nigger, (highly offensive, archaic) darky
    Hypernyms: person of color, nonwhite

Usage notes[edit]

  • See the notes about the adjective, above.


Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Isabel Wilkerson (January 31, 1989), “‘African-American’ Favored By Many of America's Blacks”, in The New York Times, page A1: “A movement led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to call blacks African-Americans has met with both rousing approval and deep-seated skepticism in a debate that is coming to symbolize the role and history of blacks in this country.”
  2. ^ African-American at Google Ngram Viewer